Is Math Racist?

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Photo courtesy of pexels.com

In late February, the Oregon Department of Education suggested that math is racist. Since then, they have started to create new course outlines for the subject, carrying the goal of eliminating any white supremacy culture from their mathematics curriculum. Other states such as Vermont, California, and Washington have also begun a similar process.

For this large a change in the curriculum across four states, surely some great points have been made, previously unknown racially charged aspects of math have been revealed, right? Surely there must be some horrible truth behind mathematics to prove their claim that math is rooted in white supremacy. There are two reasons why they believe math is rooted in white supremacy. First, is that it’s focused on getting the “right” answer and second, that students are required to show their work.

First of all, these claims just don’t make any sense. If anyone other than them sat for hours thinking about those claims, they probably wouldn’t be able to draw a single link to white supremacy. That’s simply because there isn’t. Only one possible link comes to mind when trying to connect white supremacy to the fact that math has only one right answer, which has to be assumed is their reasoning. That link is the fact that white supremacy views one race as the “right” race. Math has one “right” answer. That’s the only link between them. They both use the word “right” in their definition. No other link exists, and if they think that’s proof of white supremacy, they should rethink their position.

From the very beginning the claim that math is racist makes no sense. There’s a reason math is referred to as a universal language. The concept of math can be understood by everyone regardless of their geography, culture, language, religion, gender, or race. Because of this, math is probably the furthest thing you can get to being tailored to a certain race. It’s understood by everybody, and has had contributions by all kinds of people. It’s just ignoring the entire subject matter and focusing on one small fraction of the picture to make your point.

However, let’s give their course outline a chance. Who knows, maybe it has some positive additions to the curriculum. One of these new additions is that they plan to specifically highlight and teach about mathematicians of color. So there are a couple flaws with this addition, such as the entire idea. Though to be fair, with this someone can actually see the logic behind it. Most students don’t know about accomplished mathematicians of color. However they don’t know about accomplished white mathematicians either, because math is not a history class. It’s no surprise students don’t know mathematicians of color, because math isn’t supposed to teach you about mathematicians, it’s supposed to teach you math. This shouldn’t have a place in the curriculum, because it’s not teaching you math, its history. This attempt of ethnic integration fails because the subject matter has nothing to do with race. They had to turn math into a history class to make it related to race, which should be evidence enough that math isn’t racist.

Overall, it seems that in an effort of preventing racism in what is most likely all of their subjects, the Oregon Department of Education shoehorned claims of racism into math and hoped it made sense instead of leaving it be. None of the claims make any sense to how they’re related to white supremacy, and the suggested curriculum changes aren’t even teaching math anymore. There is no positive side to this change being made. It doesn’t get rid of any racist presence because there was none to begin with, and it’s changing the math curriculum to teach less math. None of the course changes even approached the issues that they said contained white supremacy, so what they were even going for with those claims isn’t clear. In the end, the claim is based on nothing substantial and helps in no way whatsoever. As anyone should be able to tell you, math is not racist, it never has and it never will be.

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